Q and A with Open Studio Fellowship Artist Kevin Dartt

Open Studio Fellowship Artist Kevin Dartt was the first fellowship artist to install his sculpture “Sapling,” shown below,  at the park in the 2013 season. After Franconia, Kevin went on to  Alfred University to begin his MFA. He also holds a Masters of Mechanical Engineering and BFA from SUNY Binghamton. In 2009 he came to Franconia as a Hot Metal Artist and made “Chain Gain,” also shown below.




Chain Gain

Kevin’s work focuses on technology’s effects on society, and past projects have addressed overpopulation, consumption, and reliance on non-renewable energies. His object making practice is what helps him “come to terms with the problems of today.” In his “Permanence Collection” he uses familiar forms and images, but tweaks and aggravates them in ways that are both captivating and disturbing, catching the viewer’s attention and sending a forceful message.

For example, Kevin’s sculpture “Break Her,” shown below, recalls both the body of a whale and the hull of a ship. The images collide to form a broken down form, part man-made, part natural, cast in iron. His material choice speaks volumes, for Kevin explains that in his work, “iron represents the industrial practices needed to support our hungry society.” The sculpture seems to speak to the incursion of industry in the world’s oceans, and the consequences that result from industry’s presence.

Break Her

Break Her

Break Her detail

Break Her (detail)

I was lucky to catch up with Kevin recently, and he answered my questions about his artistic practice, his sculpture “Sapling” installed at Franconia, and what the experience lent to his work.

When you’re making sculpture, what is your creative process like? What path does your work take between the inkling of an idea and finished project? 

Once I am inspired I will either start making simple sketches or I will use a computer aided drawing (CAD) program to make a quick 3D model. Currently CAD programs have become my new sketch book, it is a nice way to see 3 dimensional objects quickly and it is easy to manipulate geometry to get the right balance. Once I have a basic concept I will make a more refined model that I will use to develop a project plan for building. This process I use is a mixture of engineering and art. If a piece is commissioned or I have the personal time and money I will start to follow the process I have made for it. At this point the original method isn’t followed exactly but what is better for process, especially if it is new to me. When I make my sculptures I do not follow a strict blueprint and use a lot computer aided manufacturing processes. Most of the work is done by hand so I am still dictating the final form and not the computer model. The initial forms of my sculpture are conceptualized early and as work progress details of the sculpture will change.

CAD drawing of Sapling in Kevin's initial proposal

CAD drawing of Sapling in Kevin’s initial proposal

Rendering of Sapling, formerly titled Seed, also included in Kevin’s proposal




What inspired your project at Franconia this summer? How does it relate to your past work?

The sculpture I made at Franconia titled “Sapling” was inspired by our ability and technology to genetically modify organisms. My past work has focused on broader issues concerning our relationship with technology and our society. Issues such as overpopulation, consumption, and energy reliance to name a few. The concepts behind the piece “Sapling” are focused issues that are part of my overall work.



Why did you propose your project to Franconia and what did the experience of working here offer you?

I proposed to make “Sapling” at Franconia for a few reasons. For one, I was familiar with the park having visited before to participate in iron casting events. Another reason and the most important is that Franconia is a place for artist to push themselves to make large work with materials they might have never used. Franconia also offers a lot of support through fellowship funding but also the network of other artist that live at the park or in the area.


What other residencies have you participated in, and how do those experiences compare to your time at Franconia?

In the past I have done a few residency programs but none of them allowed me to make a sculpture with the scale or scope as the one I made at Franconia which was a very positive experience. Other residency programs have offered good learning experiences but at Franconia the focus was about the practice and the making of sculpture.


Where did you study and whom did you study with? How have those experiences influenced your own work?

For undergrad I went to Binghamton University for mechanical engineering and fine art. The sculpture professor there is Jim Stark who is one of my mentors. After I graduated I stayed to complete my Master’s of Mechanical Engineering. In the engineering department Roy McGrann was my mentor as well as patron to my work. I worked heavily with Jim Brenner for a while when he was in Chicago. My work ethic and practice is heavily influenced by my time there. Currently I am studying towards an MFA at Alfred University were I find a lot of good advice from Coral Lambert. These are a few people that have shared their advice and practice with me. No one person has specifically shaped the direction, style or method of my work. What they have taught me is the work ethic, attitude and skills necessary to make work.

Who (or what) are your greatest inspirations as an artist?

The greatest inspirations for my work are what we do as a society, physics and natural history.

What do you consider the most important work of art in the world?

The first cave painting EVER.




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